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The Government Is Taking Advantage Of Nurses. We're On The Edge Of A Strike

30/03/2017 16:16 BST | Updated 30/03/2017 16:16 BST
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As a first-year English student nurse, I didn't go into nursing to make my millions. I didn't go into nursing to work a 9-5 shift and have weekends all to myself. I clearly didn't submit my UCAS application because I love sleep and Bank Holidays and want an easy life, as my blog posts show. No, I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to go to work and feel like I'd accomplished something good.

I went into nursing because I care. I care too much, in some cases.

And since I started my course in 2016 I've seen the government continually take advantage of a group of people whose job is so important but incredibly and severely underappreciated. Jeremy Hunt, a bitter curse word (not name, word) to utter forth from any healthcare professional's mouth, has systematically worked to undermine doctors, nurses, and healthcare staff in an effort to push ahead with the Big NHS Autopsy, where it is dissected like a limp cadaver and its parts sold off to people who want to make a quick (and very easy) buck from the ill health of the nation.

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Image: John Gomez / Shutterstock.com

This, from the man who co-authored a book stating the UK should be looking to America's healthcare system as an example for our own NHS. America's third-world, unaffordable to many, unbelievably unfair and utterly atrocious big-money healthcare. Oh, and ensure he retains a tidy profit, too.

The NHS Bursary Reform/Removal

Last year, despite an outcry from students and qualified nurses alike, the decision was made to scrap the NHS Bursary for nursing students in England. This turned a once-funded full-time course, where students are expected to spend 50% of their time on placement, into a traditionally funded (via student loans) course.

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Image: LandFox / Shutterstock.com

As an example, last November, for eight weeks, I worked full-time in my local hospital's accident and emergency department. I worked weekends, nights, and long days helping patients wash, go to the toilet, take their medication, understand their treatment plan, liaising with consultants and doctors, assisting with minor surgeries and basically shadowing my mentor in whatever job they were doing for the week.

I came home exhausted, knowing tomorrow it was to be done all again. I took comfort knowing the NHS was funding this (to the tune of £80 a month for some) and that I would be able to join the workforce without my salary being garnished for life.

That will not happen anymore. With what result? A 23% drop in applications from would-be nurses unwilling to saddle themselves with the sting of debt. 10,000 fewer nurses joining the workforce in 2020.

Saving the pennies, the government claims.

Nursing on the cheap

Then the solution: nursing associates and nurse assistants. A cheaper, pay-restricted, support role whereby associates are intended to be a nurse's support, being able to help with basic care tasks. The theory being that degree-qualified registered nurses will have more time to focus on the intricacies of patient care with help from an assistant (ignoring the fact health care assistants are already an incredibly vital part of any practice area). And then there's the Nurse Apprenticeship, which takes current healthcare/nursing assistants and trains them on-the-job to become registered nurses in 2-4 years. These both sound like great alternatives to a three-year non-funded degree.

Instead, we've seen job posts for registered nurses (who possess the training and skills needed to manage patient's healthcare journeys) replaced by support staff, leaving patients in non-qualified, non-capable hands. This is not safe. For anyone. In fact, it was found that for every professional nurse replaced by a nurse assistant, patients have a 21% increased chance of death.

That's not fair. It's not fair to those who choose this access point as a way to become a nurse, and it's not fair on patients.

A 1% pay rise

As for qualified nurses themselves, this week they have been told they will be entitled to a 1% pay rise, or a £5 a week increase in pay for many. The government were actually 'pleased to announce' this. In real terms, this pay rise is lower than the cost of living, with inflation running at 3.2%. Simply, this translates to a 14% pay cut over the last six years. Within five years, nurses, midwives, and qualified healthcare teams will be earning less than minimum wage. The people entrusted with caring for an ageing nation will barely be able to feed themselves.

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Image: John Gomez / Shutterstock.com

To combat this, some nurses work a full-time job in NHS hospitals and take 'bank' positions using specialist recruitment agencies to book shifts on an as-and-when-needed basis. This works to cover the nursing shortage, as well as help nurses pay for the necessities of an expensive life - rents, mortgages, travel and food.

Again this week, in a double whammy, NHS-recruited nurses have been told they cannot now take on additional shifts through agencies. They will only be able to book shifts, if available, through their hospital. For many nurses, this will be the death knoll, and many will abandon a sinking ship in favour of shiny private hospitals and clinics.

This is the Government's plan

The Government wants all this to happen. It has a slash-and-burn plan to render the NHS useless. Nurses and doctors and midwives will leave or be forced out. Hospitals will be closed, A&E departments shut down. Social and community posts will be removed. Fewer nurses and doctors will want to train, and a shortage will put pressure on an ageing nation.

Some people will die. It's awful to say, but they will. Whether that's due to medications and treatments not being funded, the closure of emergency services, lack of staff or the inability to get a simple appointment, it's happening now. The government needs people to see that although they are the reason funding has been withdrawn, they are doing 'everything' they can under the original NHS model of working: free at the point of use. And when people die, taxpayers will want more. And the government will say the only thing we can do is sell the NHS because it can't be free any more, except they won't call it 'selling' they'll call it a radical, modern new approach to healthcare. They will ensure safeguards and policy and shiny new treatments are put in place to protect the public, while getting contracts written and ready to ensure their own profit.

And people will want anything that means they don't watch their families die, that women don't lose children at birth because there are no more qualified midwives, that children see their parents wither away slowly because waiting lists are too long, or funding isn't there. Then, it's done.

Sound farfetched? It's happening right now.

Private providers, such as Branson's Virgin Care (which has raked in over £1billion from NHS contracts so far) are poised, ready and able to swoop in and take the profit. In my own town, an Outstanding CQC-rated GP Surgery saw its funding slashed within weeks of gaining their rating, forcing the partners to sell to Virgin Care.

I'm not naive enough to believe privatisation won't happen. I truly think that, come my graduation in 2019 the NHS won't be what it is today. But help us student nurses and those who've been doing the same job for years, help us as a profession ensure that whatever happens in the meantime, your care won't be affected. Help the people who hold the hand of your dying parents, who welcome the birth of your children, who ease the suffering of those with mental health issues, who develop the most amazing, advanced treatments, help them so they can do their job.

Help us, and support us. Because the NHS will only be around as long as there are people left to fight for it. And those people really do face an incredible battle.